Tiger in town to tangle with PGA Championship course
Golf notebook: Ailing Woods scheduled to play Thursday’s opening round
Tiger Woods warms up on the driving range before a practice round for the PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. The tournament is set to begin on Thursday.
Photograph by: David J. Phillip, AP
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — After keeping his adoring public waiting for two silent days, Tiger Woods rolled into the Valhalla Golf Club parking lot around noon Wednesday, intending to play in the 96th PGA Championship.
Showing no apparent ill effects from the micro-analyzed back pain that caused him to withdraw in mid-round from Sunday's finale of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, Woods hit a few dozen range balls, then headed off on a practice round with Steve Stricker and Harris English just after 2 p.m. ET.
Woods played nine holes, answered a few questions, then putted around the greens on the back nine.
He said the back problem he had on Sunday was unrelated to his March 31 microsurgery, and pronounced himself “pain-free ... except for the headache of talking to you guys” --- and ready to go. He also said he expects to win this week, which will require him to “hit it good, make every putt. Kinda like I did in 2000.”
The four-time PGA champion is scheduled to begin play at 8:35 a.m. Thursday, alongside two other former champs, Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington.
PAIN IN THE NECK: Defending PGA champion Jason Dufner is hoping he can earn enough Ryder Cup points here to make Tom Watson's U.S. team, but the bulging disks in his neck have caused him to re-evaluate his physical condition.
"To be honest, it's kind of a blessing," Dufner said Wednesday. "I need to take a serious look at my health and maybe make a better effort to be in better shape, because if you don't have your health, as you see with a pretty prominent player and myself, it's hard to be competitive out here."
VICE SQUAD: Watson didn't rise to the bait when someone asked if Tiger Woods might be a candidate to be vice-captain of the Ryder Cup team in the event his play or his health aren't good enough to get him on the team.
Watson did, however, name his three vice-captains Wednesday: ESPN commentator and two-time U.S. Open champ Andy North, Watson contemporary Raymond Floyd as his "kick-butt, steely-eyed" assistant, and Steve Stricker, who might be the best-liked player on the Tour.
"I don't like that all these guys are showing up hurt or leaving the Tour (Dustin Johnson) for personal reasons," Stricker said, "but there's so many good players … so I still like (the team).
"I would really like to have a healthy Tiger on that team," he said, to Watson, "and I know you would, too."
STARRY-EYED: PGA Professional national champion Michael Block, the head pro at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, Calif., is paired with PGA Seniors winner Colin Montgomerie and 2003 PGA champ Shaun Micheel, and is trying not to stare as he mixes with the game's stars this week.
"Just being around the people I watch on TV and the people I idolize and the people I've been seeing forever, such as Colin Montgomerie — the guy has been in my life my whole life; yet he doesn't know it (laughter) and I've looked up to him," Block said. "I'll make sure I don't tell him that when I play with him on Thursday and Friday."
He said he happened to pass Rory McIlroy hitting bunker shots Tuesday and the sight stopped him in his tracks.
"He filets (the sand wedge) open and then he really opens it up more and accelerates more than I would, because I would be afraid of hitting the spectators on the other side of the short game area personally. But he's not afraid of that, I guess."
TO EACH HIS OWN: Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters champion, isn't into the heavy lifting and arduous workouts Tiger Woods does in the gym.
"The golf swing is stressful on the body, especially at a high level and high repetitions like we put in. And I would say earlier in my career, the foundations of my training were probably based around injury prevention," Scott said.
"And as I've matured as a golfer and my body, I've had to adjust and adapt and try and strengthen areas that weaken just through this repetition of beating golf balls.
"There are areas in my body that I think are key to me swinging the club well, and I work on those, but I have to balance that with keeping enough freedom to be able to make a nice turn in the backswing and nice turn in the through swing and keep the back as supple as I possibly can."
OLD KENTUCKY HOME: The Valhalla course that's in play this week is considerably different from the one that staged the 1996 PGA or 2008 Ryder Cup or even the 2011 Senior PGA.
"The golf course is longer. All the green complexes are different," said 53-year-old Kentuckian Kenny Perry. "I had to throw away my books, all the books that I had charted in '96, 2008 and 2011. I had a lot of good homework on this golf course.
"You know, sight lines are pretty close to the same but the balls break different."
THRILL RIDER: Perry used to be heavily into drag racing but has more or less given up the driving part.
"I still have my car that I used to race, but I haven't had it out in two years. I've got grandkids now. Going 200 miles an hour, things happen, and I want to actually spend more time with them. Don't want to take the chances I used to take."
He had one close call, and that was enough.
"I was probably running 180 miles an hour when the car got away from me, got loose," he said. "I actually had a wreck, but I didn't hit nothing. The car got sideways and I'm doing 180 at the eighth mile mark and I was able to parachute, and when the parachute blossomed behind the car, it save me from going into the wall and straightened me up. I needed to go change my clothes when I got done after that one."
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